Early Church Fathers
Matthew Chapter 15, Verse 1.
Matthew Chapter 15, Verse 1.
"Then came to Jesus Scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do Thy disciples," etc.1
Then; when? when He had wrought His countless miracles; when He had healed the infirm by the touch of the hem of His garment. For even with this intent doth the evangelist mark the time, that He might signify their unspeakable wickedness, by nothing repressed.
But what means, "The Scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem?"2 In every one of the tribes were they scattered abroad, and divided into twelve parts; but they who occupied the chief city were worse than the others, as both enjoying more honor, and having contracted much haughtiness.
But mark, I pray thee, how even by the question itself they are convicted; in not saying, "Why do they transgress the law of Moses," but, "the tradition of the elders." Whence it is evident that the priests were inventing many novelties, although Moses, with much terror and with much threatening, had enjoined neither to add nor take away. "For ye shall not add," saith he, "unto the word which I command you this day, and ye shall not take away from it."3
But not the less were they innovating; as in this instance, that one ought not to eat with unwashen hands, that we must wash cups and brazen vessels, that we must wash also ourselves. Thus, when men were henceforth, as time advanced, to be freed from their observances, at that very time they bound them with the same in more and more instances, fearing lest any one should take away their power, and wishing to strike more dread, as though they were themselves also lawgivers. The thing in fact proceeded so far in enormity, that while their own commandments were kept, those of God were transgressed; and they so far prevailed, that the matter had actually become a ground of accusation. Which was a twofold charge against them, in that they both invented novelties, and were so strict exactors on their own account, while of God they made no reckoning.
And omitting to speak of the other things, the pots and the brazen vessels (for it was too ridiculous), what seemed more reasonable than the rest, that they bring forward, wishing, as seems at least to me, in that way to provoke Him to anger. Wherefore also they made mention of the elders, in order that He, as setting them at nought, might give occasion against Himself.
But it were meet first to inquire, why the disciples ate with unwashen hands. Wherefore then did they so eat? Not as making a point of it, but as overlooking henceforth the things that are superfluous, and attending to such as are necessary; having no law to wash or not to wash, but doing either as it happened. For they that despised even their own necessary food, how were they to hold these things worth much consideration? This then having often happened unintentionally,-for instance, when they ate in the wilderness, when they plucked the ears of corn,-is now put forward as a charge by these persons, who are always transgressing in the great things, and making much account of the superfluous.
2. What then saith Christ? He did not set Himself against it, neither made He any defense, but straightway blames them again, plucking down their confidence, and signifying that he who commits great sins ought not to be strict with others concerning small matters. "What? when you ought to be blamed," saith He, "do ye even blame?"
But do thou observe, how when it is His will to set aside any of the things enjoined by the law, He does it in the form of an apology; and so He did in that case. For by no means doth He proceed at once to transgress it, nor doth He say, "It is nothing;" for surely He would have made them more audacious; but first He clean cuts away their boldness, bringing forward the far heavier charge, and directing it upon their head. And He neither saith, "they do well in transgressing it," lest He should give them a hold on Him; nor doth He speak ill of their proceeding, lest He should confirm the law: nor again, on the other hand, doth He blame the elders, as lawless and unholy men; for doubtless they would have shunned Him as a reviler and injurious: but all these things He gives up, and proceeds another way. And He seems indeed to be rebuking the persons themselves who had come to Him, but He is reprehending them that enacted these laws; nowhere indeed making mention of the elders, but by His charge against the Scribes casting down them also, and signifying that their sin is twofold, first in disobeying God, next in doing so on men's account; as though He had said, "Why this, this hath ruined you, your obeying the elders in all things."
Yet He saith not so, but this is just what He intimates, by answering them as follows:
"Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by4 your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and5 honor not his father or his mother6 -And ye have made void the commandment7 of God by your tradition.8
And He said not, "the elders' tradition," but "your own." And, "ye say;" again He said not, "the elders say:" in order to make His speech less galling. That is, because they wanted to prove the disciples transgressors of the law, He signifies that they themselves are doing so, but that these are free from blame. For of course that is not a law, which is enjoined by men (wherefore also He calls it "a tradition"), and especially by men that are transgressors of the law.
And since this had no shade of contrariety to the law, to command men to wash their hands, He brings forward another tradition, which is opposed to the law. And what He saith is like this. "They taught the young, under the garb of piety, to despise their fathers." How, and in what way? "If one of their parents said to his child, Give me this sheep that thou hast, or this calf, or any such thing, they used to say, 'This is a gift to God, whereby thou wouldest be profited by me, and thou canst not have it.' And two evils hence arose: on the one hand they did not bring them to God, on the other they defrauded their parents under the name of the offering, alike insulting their parents for God's sake, and God for their parents' sake." But He doth not say this at once, but first rehearses the law, by which He signifies His earnest desire that parents should be honored. For, "honor," saith He, "thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest live long upon the earth."9 And again, "He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death."10
But He, omitting the first, the reward appointed for them that honor their parents, states that which is more awful, the punishment, I mean, threatened to such as dishonor them; desiring both to dismay them, and to conciliate such as have understanding; and He implies them to be for this worthy of death. For if he who dishonors them in word is punished, much more ye, who do so in deed, and who not only dishonor, but also teach it to others. "Ye then who ought not so much as to live, how find ye fault with the disciples?"
"And what wonder is it, if ye offer such insults to me, who am as yet unknown, when even to the Father ye are found doing the like?" For everywhere He both asserts and implies, that from Him they began with this their arrogance.
But some do also otherwise interpret, "It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;" that is, I owe thee no honor, but it is a free gift from me to thee, if indeed I do honor thee. But Christ would not have mentioned an insult of that sort.
And Mark again makes this plainer, by saying, "It is Corban, by whatsoever thou mightest be profiled by me;"11 which means, not a gift and present, but properly an offering.
Having then signified that they who were trampling on the law could not be justly entitled to blame men for transgressing a command of certain elders, He points out this same thing again from the prophet likewise. Thus, having once laid hold of them severely, He proceeds further: as on every occasion He doth, bringing forward the Scriptures, and so evincing Himself to be in accordance with God.
And what saith the prophet? "This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."12
Seest thou a prophecy in exact accordance with His sayings, and from the very first proclaiming beforehand their wickedness? For what Christ laid to their charge now, of this Isaiah also spake from the very first; that the words of God they despise, "for in vain do they worship me," saith He; but of their own they make much account, "teaching," saith He, "for doctrines the commandments of men." Therefore with reason the disciples keep them not.
3. Having, you see, given them their mortal blow; and from the facts first, then from their own suffrage, then from the prophet having aggravated the charge, with them indeed He discourses not at all, incorrigibly disposed as they are now come to be, but directs His speech to the multitudes, so as to introduce His doctrine, great and high, and full of much strictness; and taking occasion from the former topic, He proceeds to insert that which is greater, casting out also the observance of meats.
But see when. When He had cleansed the leper, when He had repealed the Sabbath, when He had shown Himself King of earth and sea, when He had made laws, when He had remitted sins, when He had raised dead men, when He had afforded them many proofs of His Godhead, then He discourses of meats.
For indeed all the religion of the Jews is comprised in this; if thou take this away, thou hast even taken away all. For hereby He signifies, that circumcision too must be abrogated. But of Himself He doth not prominently introduce this (forasmuch as that was older than the other commandments, and had higher estimation), but He enacts it by His disciples. For so great a thing was it, that even the disciples after so long a time being minded to do it away, first practise it, and so put it down.13
But see how He introduces His law: how "He called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear and understand."14
Thus He doth by no means simply reveal it to them, but by respect and courtesy, first, He makes His saying acceptable (for this the evangelist declares by saying, "He called them unto Him"): and secondly, by the time also; in that after their refutation, and His victory over them, and the accusation by the prophet, then He begins His legislation, when they too would more easily receive His sayings.
And He doth not merely call them unto Him, but also makes them more attentive. For "understand," saith He, that is, "consider, rouse yourselves; for of that sort is the law now about to be enacted. For if they set aside the law, even unseasonably, for their own tradition, and ye hearkened; much more ought ye to hearken unto me, who at the proper season am leading you unto a higher rule of self restraint."
And He did not say, "The observance of meats is nothing, neither that Moses had given wrong injunctions, nor that of condescension He did so;" but in the way of admonition and counsel, and taking His testimony from the nature of the things, He saith: "Not the things that go into the mouth, defile the man, but the things that go out of the mouth;"15 resorting to nature herself both in His enactment and in His demonstration. Yet they hearing all this, made no reply, neither did they say, "What sayest Thou? When God hath given charges without number concerning the observance of meats, dost thou make such laws?" But since He had utterly stopped their mouths, not by refuting them only, but also by publishing their craft, and exposing what was done by them in secret, and revealing the secrets of their mind; their mouths were stopped, and so they went away.
But mark, I pray thee, how He doth not yet venture distinctly to set Himself with boldness against the meats. Therefore neither did He say "the meats," but, "the things that enter in defile not the man;" which it was natural for them to suspect concerning the unwashen hands also. For He indeed was speaking of meats, but it would be understood of these matters too.
Why, so strong was the feeling of scruple about the meats, that even after the resurrection Peter said, "Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything common or unclean."16 For although it was for the sake of others that He said this, and in order to leave Himself a justification against his censurers, by pointing out that he actually remonstrated, and not even so was excused, nevertheless it implies the depth of their impression on that point.
Wherefore you see He Himself also at the beginning spake not openly concerning meats, but, "The things that go into the mouth;" and again, when He had seemed afterwards to speak more plainly, He veiled it by His conclusion, saying, "But to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man:"17 that He might seem to have had His occasion from thence, and to be still discoursing of the same. Therefore He said not, "To eat meats defileth not a man," but is as though He were speaking on that other topic; that they may have nothing to say against it.
4. When therefore they had heard these things, "the Pharisees," it is said, "were offended,"18 not the multitudes. For "His disciples," so it is said, "came and said unto Him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, when they heard the saying?" Yet surely nothing had been said unto them.
What then saith Christ? He did not remove the offense in respect of them, but reproved them, saying, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up."19 For He is wont both to despise offenses, and not to despise them. Elsewhere, for example, He saith, "But lest we should offend them, cast an hook into the sea:"20 but here He saith, "Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind: and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."21
But these things His disciples said, not as grieving for those men only, but as being themselves also slightly perplexed. But because they durst not say so in their own person, they would fain learn it by their telling Him of others. And as to its being so, hear how after this the ardent and ever-forward Peter came to Him, and saith, "Declare unto us this parable,"22 discovering the trouble in his soul, and not indeed venturing to say openly, "I am offended," but requiring that by His interpretation he should be freed from his perplexity; wherefore also he was reproved.
What then saith Christ? "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up."
This, they that are diseased with the Manichaean pest affirm to be spoken of the law; but their months are stopped by what had been said before. For if He was speaking of the law, how doth He further back defend it, and fight for it, saying, "Why do ye transgress the commandments of God for your tradition?" And how doth He bring forward the prophet? But of themselves and of their traditions He so speaks. For if God said, "Honor thy father and thy mother," how is not that of God's planting, which was spoken by God?
And what follows also indicates, that of themselves it was said, and of their traditions. Thus He added, "They are blind leaders of the blind." Whereas, had He spoken it of the law, He would have said, "It is a blind leader of the blind." But not so did He speak, but, "They are blind leaders of the blind:" freeing it from the blame, and bringing it all round upon them.
Then to sever the people also from them, as being on the point of falling into a pit by their means, He saith, "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."
It is a great evil merely to be blind, but to be in such a case and have none to lead him, nay, to occupy the place of a guide, is a double and triple ground of censure. For if it be a dangerous thing for the blind man not to have a guide, much more so that he should even desire to be guide to another.
What then saith Peter? He saith not, "What can this be which Thou hast said?" but as though it were full of obscurity, he puts his question. And he saith not, "Why hast thou spoken contrary to the law?" for he was afraid, lest he should be thought to have taken offense, but asserts it to be obscure. However, that it was not obscure, but that he was offended, is manifest, for it had nothing of obscurity.
Wherefore also He rebukes him, saying, "Are ye also yet without understanding?"23 For as to the multitude, they did not perhaps so much as understand the saying; but themselves were the persons offended. Wherefore, whereas at first, as though asking in behalf of the Pharisees, they were desirous to be told; when they heard Him denouncing a great threat, and saying, "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up," and," They are blind leaders of the blind," they were silenced. But he, always ardent, not even so endures to hold his peace, but saith, "Declare unto us this parable."24
What then saith Christ? With a sharp rebuke He answers, "Are ye also yet without understanding? Do ye not yet understand?"
But these things He said, and reproved them, in order to cast out their prejudice; He stopped not however at this, but adds other things also, saying, "That whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught; but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, blasphemies, false-witnessings: and these are the things that defile the man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man."25
Seest thou how sharply He deals with them, and in the way of rebuke?
Then He establishes His saying by our common nature, and with a view to their cure. For when He saith, "It goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught," he is still answering according to the low views of the Jews. For He saith, "it abides not, but goes out:" and what if it abode? it would not make one unclean. But not yet were they able to hear this.
And one may remark, that because of this the lawgiver allows just so much time, as it may be remaining within one, but when it is gone forth, no longer. For instance, at evening He bids you wash yourself, and so be clean; measuring the time of the digestion, and of the excretion.26 But the things of the heart, He saith, abide within, and when they are gone forth they defile, and not when abiding only. And first He puts our evil thoughts, a kind of thing which belonged to the Jews; and not as yet doth He make His refutation from the nature of the things, but from the manner of production from the belly and the heart respectively, and from the fact that the one sort remains, the other not; the one entering in from without, and departing again outwards, while the others are bred27 within, and having gone forth they defile, and then more so, when they are gone forth. Because they were not yet able, as I said, to be taught these things with all due strictness.
But Mark saith, that "cleansing the meats,"28 He spake this. He did not however express it, nor at all say, "but to eat such and such meats defileth not the man," for neither could they endure to be told it by Him thus distinctly. And accordingly His conclusion was, "But to eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man."29
5. Let us learn then what are the things that defile the man; let us learn, and let us flee them. For even in the church we see such a custom prevailing amongst the generality, and men giving diligence to come in clean garments, and to have their hands washed; but how to present a clean soul to God, they make no account.
And this I say, not forbidding them to wash hands or mouth; but willing men so to wash as is meet, not with water only, but instead of water, with all virtues. For the filth of the mouth is evil speaking, blasphemy, reviling, angry words, filthy talking, laughter, jesting: if then thou art conscious to thyself of uttering none of them, neither of being defiled with this filth, draw near with confidence; but if thou hast times out of number received these stains, why dost thou labor in vain, washing thy tongue indeed with water, but bearing about on it such deadly and hurtful filth? For tell me, hadst thou dung on thy hands, and mire, wouldest thou indeed venture to pray? By no means. And yet this were no hurt; but that is ruin. How then art thou reverential in the different things, but in the forbidden remiss?
What then? should not we pray? saith one. We should indeed, but not while defiled, and having upon us mire of that sort.
"What then, if I have been overtaken?" saith one. Cleanse thyself. "How, and in what way?" Weep, groan, give alms, apologize to him that is affronted, reconcile him to thyself hereby, wipe clean thy tongue, lest thou provoke God more grievously. For so if one had filled his hands with dung, and then should lay hold of thy feet, entreating thee, far from hearing him, thou wouldest rather spurn him with thy foot; how then durst thou in such sort draw nigh to God? Since in truth the tongue is the hand of them that pray, and by it we lay hold on the knees of God. Defile it not therefore, lest to thee also He say, "Though ye make many prayers, I will not hearken."30 Yea, and "in the power of the tongue are death and life;"31 and, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."32
I bid thee then watch thy tongue more than the apple of thine eye. The tongue is a royal steed. If then thou put a bridle on it, and teach it to pace orderly, the King will rest and take His seat thereon; but if thou suffer it to rush about unbridled and leap wantonly, it becomes a beast for the devil and bad spirits to ride on. And while thou, fresh from the company of thine own wife, darest not pray, although this is no blame at all; dost thou lift up thine hands, fresh from reviling and insult, which brings after it no less than hell, before thou hast well cleansed thyself? And how dost thou not shudder? tell me. Hast thou not heard Paul, saying, "Marriage is honorable, and the bed undefiled?"33 But if on rising from the undefiled bed, thou darest not draw nigh in prayer, how dost thou coming from the bed of the devil call on that awful and terrible name? For it is truly the devil's bed, to wallow in insults and reviling. And like some wicked adulterer, wrath dailies with us in great delight, casting into us deadly seed, and making us give birth to diabolical enmity, and doing all things in a way opposite to marriage. For whereas marriage causes the two to become one flesh, wrath severs into many parts them that were united, and cleaves and cuts in pieces the very soul.
That thou mayest therefore with confidence draw nigh to God, receive not wrath, when it comes in upon thee, and desires to be with thee, but drive it away like a mad dog.
For so Paul too commanded: his phrase being, "lifting up holy hands without wrath and disputing."34 Dishonor not then thy tongue, for how will it entreat for thee, when it hath lost its proper confidence? but adorn it with gentleness, with humility, make it worthy of the God who is entreated, fill it with blessing, with much almsdoing. For it is possible even with words to do alms. "For a word is a better thing than a gift,"35 and "answer the poor man peaceably with meekness."36 And all the rest of thy time too adorn it with the rehearsing of the laws of God; "Yea, let all thy communication be in the law of the Most High."37
Having thus adorned ourselves, let us come to our King, and fall at His knees,38 not with the body only, but also with the mind. Let us consider whom we are approaching, and on whose behalf, and what we would accomplish. We are drawing nigh unto God, whom the seraphim behold and turn away their faces, not bearing His brightness; at sight of whom the earth trembles. We draw nigh unto God, "who dwelleth in the light, which no man can approach unto."39 And we draw nigh unto Him for deliverance from hell, for remission of sins, for escape from those intolerable punishments, for attaining to the Heavens, and to the good things that are there. Let us, I say, fall down before Him both in body and in mind, that He may raise us up when we are down; let us converse with all gentleness and meekness.
And who is so wretched and miserable, one may say, as not to become gentle in prayer? He that prays with an imprecations and fills himself with wrath, and cries out against his enemies.
6. Nay, if thou wilt accuse, accuse thyself. If thou wilt whet and sharpen thy tongue, let it be against thine own sins. And tell not what evil another hath done to thee, but what thou hast done to thyself; for this is most truly an evil; since no other will really be able to injure thee, unless thou injure thyself. Wherefore, if thou desire to be against them that wrong thee, approach as against thyself first; there is no one to hinder; since by coming into court against another, thou hast but the greater injury to go away with.
And what injury at all hast thou really to mention? That such an one insulted and spoiled thee by violence, and encompassed thee with dangers? Nay, this is receiving not injury, but if we be sober, the very greatest benefit; the injured being he that did such things, not he that suffered them. And this is more than any one thing the cause of all our evils, that we do not so much as know at all who is the injured, and who the injurious person. Since if we knew this well, we should not ever injure ourselves, we should not pray against another, having learnt that it is impossible to suffer ill of another. For not to be spoiled, but to spoil, is an evil. Wherefore, if thou hast spoiled, accuse thyself; but if thou hast been spoiled, rather pray for him that spoiled thee, because he hath done thee the greatest good. For although the intent of the doer was not such, yet thou hast received the greatest benefit, if thou hast endured it nobly. For him, both men, and the laws of God declare to be wretched, but thee, the injured party, they crown, and proclaim thy praise.
For so if any one sick of a fever had violently taken from any other a vessel containing water, and had had his fill of his pernicious desire, we should not say that the despoiled had been injured, but the spoiler; for he has aggravated his fever, and made his disease more grievous. Now in this way I bid thee reason concerning him also that loves wealth and money. For he too, having a far worse fever than the other, has by this rapine fanned the flame in himself.
Again,were some madman to snatch a sword from any one, and destroy himself, which again is the injured? He that hath been robbed, or the robber? It is quite clear, he that did the robbery.
Well then, in the case of seizing property also, let us give the same suffrage. For what a sword is to a madman, much the same is wealth to a covetous man; nay, it is even a worse thing. For the madman, when he has taken the sword, and thrust it through himself, is both delivered from his madness, and hath no second blow to receive; but the lover of money receives daily ten thousand wounds more grievous than his, without delivering himself from his madness, but aggravating it more exceedingly: and the more wounds he receives, the more doth he give occasion for other more grievous blows.
Reflecting then on these things, let us flee this sword; let us flee the madness; though late, let us become temperate. For this virtue too ought to be called temperance, not less than that which is used to be so called among all men. For whereas there the dominion of one lust is to be struggled against, here we have to master many lusts, and those of all kinds.
Yea, nothing, nothing is more foolish40 than the slave of wealth. He thinks he overcomes when he is overcome. He thinks he is master, when he is a slave, and putting bonds on himself, he rejoices; making the wild beast fiercer, he is pleased; and becoming a captive, he prides himself, and leaps for joy; and seeing a dog rabid and flying at his soul, when he ought to bind him and weaken him by hunger, he actually supplies him with abundance of food, that he may leap upon him more fiercely, and be more formidable.
Reflecting then on all these things, let us loose the bonds, let us slay the monster, let us drive away the disease, let us cast out this madness; that we may enjoy a calm and pure health, and having with much pleasure sailed into the serene haven, may attain unto the eternal blessings; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, now and always, and world without end. Amen.